Lab Report

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.

April 26, 2019

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Melting icebergs due to climate change are one of the reasons ocean levels are rising. Image courtesy of NOAA

The heat is on

New research and studies out in just the past six months highlight the latest facts about the human-caused shift to global weather systems and its effects on our planet.

There's no longer any question that rising temperatures and increasingly chaotic weather are the work of humanity. There's a 99.9999 percent chance that humans are the cause of global warming, a February study reported. That means the world has reached the "gold standard" for certainty, a statistical measure typically used in particle physics.

Study lead author Benjamin Santer of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said: “The narrative out there that scientists don’t know the cause of climate change is wrong."

The past five years have been the five warmest since record-keeping began in the late 1800s. The Earth has experienced 42 straight years (since 1977) with an above-average global temperature, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Based on five separate datasets that keep track of the Earth's climate, the global average temperature for the first 10 months of 2018 was about 1.8 degrees above what it was in the late 1800s. That was when industry started to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

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Lawrence Livermore scientists looked to origami to create a telescope lens they needed to fold for its journey to space.

Unfolding new frontiers

Scientists and engineers are finding practical applications for the Japanese art form of origami in space, medicine, robotics, architecture and more.

Robert Lang is a passionate proselytizer for the art and science of origami. He wrote a paper outlining an algorithm for origami design.

One paper caught the eye of engineers at Lawrence Livermore who were working on a telescope lens they needed to fold for its journey into space. He helped design a prototype lens the size of a football field for the Eyeglass space optic, which would have stretched to the size of Manhattan had the project been funded.

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One of NIF's tiny target capsules (the nearly invisible white dot in the middle) is electroplated inside a red cage. Image by Corie Horwood/LLNL

Bobbing for shells

A Lawrence Livermore team of physicists and target engineers has reached an important goal with a new technique for electroplating copper and gold to create tiny, smoothly spherical inertial confinement fusion (ICF) target shells.

The target designers engineered a method that electroplates a 1.5-millimeter plastic capsule as it bobs up and down on alternating streams of liquid inside a cage.

The technique can form a shell that’s “almost perfect,” a key step toward future National Ignition Facility ICF experiments using either double- or single-shell targets made from a high atomic number metal such as copper and gold, said Deputy Target Fabrication Program Manager Michael Stadermann.

“We think we have a path toward making these shells,” Stadermann said. “We’ve crossed an important hurdle by showing this is possible.”

The team had to be persistent to overcome several twists and turns over the years before finding the right combination. The effort started in late 2015 with a renewed push toward double-shell ICF experiments at NIF, the largest and most energetic laser ever built.

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Tantalum crystal can flow like a viscous fluid while remaining a stiff and strong metal and retaining its ordered lattice structure. This snapshot depicts a dense network of lattice defects developing in the flowing crystal.

Forged in a firestorm

A medieval blacksmith making a sword knew that pounding on iron altered its shape. At the atomic level, that same mechanism — crystal plasticity — has remained somewhat speculative, but materials scientist Vasily Bulatov is changing that.

Long after the Iron Age, scientists concluded that atoms sliding by each other cause a material’s shape to change. Still, “it’s impossible to observe and quantify exactly how the atoms do it,” says Bulatov, a senior scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Scientists can’t watch the atomic movement deep in the bulk metal, and “it has been too expensive to model on a computer, although generally it was understood how to do these simulations. It’s kind of funny that no one doubts that this connection exists, but no one has been able to actually compute or predict that.”

After 25 years of interest in crystal plasticity, Bulatov hopes to use first principles — the basic rules of physics — to solve two key controversies in this field. He already described some of the tools the job requires: In 2017, he and LLNL colleagues reported that they could simulate crystal plasticity in the metal tantalum.

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LLNL data show that solar energy had the largest increase in 2018.

Energy in full flow

Energy consumption in the United States reached an all-time high last year, according to energy flow charts released by Lawrence Livermore.

The charts indicate that the United States consumed 101.2 quadrillion British thermal units of energy, or quads, last year, up on the previous record of 101 quads, in 2007. Yet the 2018 figure also represents the highest annual increase since 2010, at 3.6 percent.

The U.S. data reflected the global trend: Everybody loves natural gas over oil now. Consumption of energy produced from natural gas rose by 3 quads, or 10.7 percent on the year, making it the biggest riser in fossil fuels, but not the biggest in total. The No. 1 spot belonged to solar energy; its consumption last year jumped by 22 percent. Wind energy consumption added 7.6 percent, while coal consumption continued to fall.